February, 7 2010
Port Hedland salt flats
Les Walkling
Photography

The Pilbara is not my home so I am an incurser (to incuse), who stamps my way on what I find. At worst this is imperialist, at best it is colonialist. My response to date is culturally naive and artistically suspect. I can't hide behind notions of objectivity or professional privilege. I need a thesis. I need a belief.

A technological proposition does not require the Pilbara (unless I am testing whether a Hasselblad or a Phase camera melts first). In any case a purely technical concern would be trivial in the face of the grandeur of the Pilbara. So I need a personal, or artistic or cultural proposition.

One thing my research has turned up is how relatively 'unknown' the Pilbara is to curators and other friends over here on the east coast. There is a blind-spot on this side (east) of the country, to most of the rest of Australia. We collect signs of significance, and through them reflect our prejudices and innocence. Over here I live in a crowded city that I call home, while dreaming of far flung origins few of us know or understand. Yet the land pervades my consciousness through literature, music, film, poetry and other cultural mythologies. But in photography, the most visual of all media (but not necessarily the most intelligent), we have a mighty gap or absence. Where in our photographic histories is the treatise on the history of Australian landscape photography? It doesn't exist. And in particular, where do the sensitive photographs we render, belong in our cultural myopia. This blindness of course can't be helped. But I see only what I know. I also respect only what I understand.

So my thesis begins questioning my (white) relationship to our land, to country, and my prejudices and myths through which I understand this. What do I know of this far away place, and how ordinary (shared) are my perceptions despite my professionalism? What do I discover about myself, my culture, and my artistic presumptions when I encounter a landscape like the Pilbara? What do I photograph, and what do I suspect I am doing, and what do I discover I have done? What am I referencing? Who am I consulting?

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